How to notice nutrient deficiencies

Healthy Eating

Owen Wiseman

06 March 2020

What are the categories of nutrients that I might be deficient in?

The four we focus on today include the following:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins: As the name implies, these are the vitamins that are absorbed with fats and stored in the adipose (fat) tissue of the body. These include the letter vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are not flushed through the body as quickly as the water-soluble vitamins, and risk of over-accumulation is important to consider as it is typically caused by over-supplementation.
  • Macro-minerals: These are the minerals required in large amounts for the body's basic functions and include calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium amongst others.
  • Micro-minerals: As one might have guessed, these are not required in as large amounts as the others, and include copper, zinc, selenium, and iron amongst others.
  • Water-soluble vitamins: These are the vitamin C and beloved B vitamins that are soluble in water, and are therefore excreted through the urine, ranging from B1 (thiamin) to B12 (cobalamin).

What are some general signs and symptoms I should be aware of?

Some signs and symptoms are more specific to certain tissues depending on which mineral or vitamin is lacking. See below for a few examples.

  • Vitamin A: You may notice declines in night vision or dry hair and skin.
  • Vitamin B1: A lack of B1 (thiamine) can result in weight loss, fatigue or short-term memory loss. In extreme deficiencies, individuals may develop a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a combination of brain inflammation and psychosis that is especially prevalent in those battling alcohol use disorder due to its ability to impair nutrient absorption.
  • Vitamin B3: Low levels of B3 (niacin) can lead to pellagra causing the familiar 'three D's' including dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea.
  • Vitamin B9: Deficiency of B9 (folate) can lead to severe birth defects, growth problems, or anemia. We'll touch on this a bit more later.
  • Vitamin B12: Known as cobalamin, B12 deficiencies lead to anemia, nausea or poor appetite, pale or yellowish skin.
  • Vitamin C: You may suffer from bleeding gums as collagen, an important protein in connective tissue, requires vitamin C for synthesis.
  • Vitamin D: A lack of this nutrient can lead to osteoporosis or poor bone growth as its presence is vital in order to absorb calcium.
  • Calcium: Can lead to convulsions and abnormal heart rhythms due to the important role it plays in the contraction of cardiac tissue.
  • Iron: Pale tissues and a cold sensation as iron is necessary to move oxygen around the body, leading to under perfused tissue.

What are some conditions that may affect my nutrient status?

Generally, when one becomes deficient in nutrients, it is either due to issues of absorption, diet, or digestion.

  • Malabsorption implies your body cannot bring the nutrients through the digestive tract and into the body. This could be due to the prolonged use of antibiotics, damage to the intestinal lining, or a less common condition known as short bowel syndrome (SBS). In SBS, the source of the nutrients spend a shorter amount of time being digested because there simply is too little colon tissue, and the body cannot absorb the whole amount from the source. You might notice stool tending towards a yellow colour if fats aren't absorbed, in which case signs of fat-soluble vitamin deficiency may appear.
  • Another cause can be digestive concerns such as lacking certain enzymes to break down the nutrient source. For instance, some individuals suffer from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency and lack the enzymes needed to break down food. A panel of Canadian gastroenterologist determined that it could be managed by ingesting pancreatic enzymes with meals.

Do I need to have a supplement for every individual vitamin or mineral?

The answer to that question is dependent on your individual nutrient status, overall health, and dietary choices.

An at-risk population for nutrient deficiencies are those who follow a vegan diet. There are many blogs out there claiming that with a whole food diet, you can meet all of your dietary needs, but without a boost from enriched or fortified foods, vegans may find themselves missing out on some key nutrients.

Lacking B12, as mentioned earlier, can cause issues with the division of red blood cells and subsequent anemia, infertility, and damage to nerves throughout the body.

Pregnant women should also consider a folic acid supplement to reduce the risk of birth defects, more specifically known as neural tube defects, especially in the first trimester.

In 1998, the US Institute of Medicine recognized that the ability of the body to absorb B12 decreased with age and one might consider a supplement at that point. This is true for many of the nutrients as the digestive system slows down in conjunction with a declining metabolism.

For instance, one study demonstrated that sodium-potassium pumps, those responsible for shunting electrolytes, are 18% slower in older men and resulted in 101 fewer calories being burned each day.

How do I test nutrient status?

Most clinics and labs throughout Canada can easily draw a vial of blood and determine your vitamin D and B12 status in addition to other minerals such as potassium, sodium and others.

What are some dietary sources rich in these critical nutrients?

What you want to consider are known as nutrient-dense foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, but low in calories. These foods are unsurprising and include:

with research demonstrating numerous health benefits.

The most important aspect is ensuring you meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of a nutrient as can be found via the Government of Canada.

It is also satisfying to grow your own sprouts that can be added to a plethora of meals. Sprouts require little maintenance besides the initial rinse and soak, and can be ready for harvest in 3-7 days! Products such as bioSnacky include sprouts such as alfalfa, radish, lentils, and even arugula.

An additional product to consider is Bio-Strath, a whole food supplement with a robust nutrient profile, one containing the full spectrum of essential amino acids, B vitamins and minerals.

An in-vitro study demonstrated its ability to significantly increase the uptake of iron, magnesium, zinc, and thiamine (B1). This may explain the benefits of the product observed in clinical trials including athletes, primary schoolchildren experiencing mental stress and concentration issues, and others.


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